KENAI - Democrat Fran Ulmer has set herself apart from other candidates in the governor's race by declaring that new taxes will be needed to solve the state's budget crisis.
The other candidates at an hour-long forum in Kenai on Wednesday rejected that idea, reported the Anchorage Daily News.
"I think it's completely unbelievable for anyone to claim Alaska can solve its budget gap without new revenues," Ulmer told a packed audience at the forum organized by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. "The math doesn't work."
Ulmer made a point of saying that as governor she would protect the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program, but said a fair tax would be part of her plan, along with budget cuts and economic incentives, to pay for government as oil revenue declines.
Analysts say the state's income will fall roughly $1 billion short of its budget every year unless something changes.
Republican U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski said "no" to new taxes. He said he would use budget cuts and foster high-paying jobs in the oil and gas field to help solve the budget problem.
The forum was the first debate attended by both front-runners since a gathering focused on fishing in Kodiak last spring.
Murkowski characterized Ulmer's political career as one highlighted by promoting taxes. He took a jab at both the lieutenant governor and one of her Republican supporters, former Gov. Jay Hammond, pointing out that Ulmer was a Hammond policy adviser for six years in the late 1970s, when state spending grew the fastest.
Ulmer was the first to reply when the candidates were asked directly whether taxes would be part of the state's fiscal solution.
"It's long past time for politicians not to be honest with you," she said.
Murkowski said trying to fix the state's fiscal mess with taxes unfairly burdens business and the people of Alaska.
"The worst message we can send to capital investors is, 'We're going to tax the people,' " Murkowski said.
Another Republican candidate, Wayne Anthony Ross, said state spending is "out of control" and requires belt-tightening and tough decisions. Taxing on one hand and writing dividend checks on the other makes no sense, Ross said.
He said part of his solution includes capping the permanent fund dividend at $500 to $750.
Alaskan Independence candidate Nels Anderson from Dillingham repeatedly called for cheap energy and an all-Alaska natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to solve the state's ills.
And Alaskan Independence candidate John Glotfelty, a retired U.S. Army first sergeant, played up his military experience, saying he would fight to end waste, fraud and abuse in Juneau.
"You give me a mission, and I will do it. Woe be the bureaucrat who stands in my way," he said.